191.1 Visibility versus the visible: How desires for social recognition shape protest aesthesis

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 2:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Joseph Jay SOSA , Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago , IL
Visibilidade (visibility) was the common idiom I heard during ethnographic fieldwork with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) activists in São Paulo, Brazil.  The politically strategic and even intimate desire to be seen by an often as-of-yet undefined other provided an uncharacteristic node of consensus among otherwise ideologically diverse LGBT activists.  In this paper, I examine the intersection of two distinct social moments of vision and visibility held together in acts of protest.  First, I consider how the discourse that developed around visbilidade informed activists’ strategies and sensibilities around street protests. Building off of participant observations of activist meetings before and after political actions, I argue that protesters planned to be seen and recorded as objects of political dissent in ways that recapitulated their own conceptions of social visibility and recognition. Debates over the use of signs, props such as rainbow umbrellas, and circulating through built environment were always intermingled with broader discussions of why it was important to be visible. Second, I examine the circulation of photographs of protests as they entered the news cycle.  I combine media analysis and interviews with photographers and journalists who recorded protests. I pay special attention to divergent claims of who produced protest images—the activists who conceived of and modeled dissent versus the journalists who photographed, framed and distributed images.  Finally, I argue that these tensions of visibility need to be understood within the act of protest itself.  Conducting a formal analysis of several protests I attended during fieldwork, I explore how vision functioned within a wider protest sensorium (including aural, tactile, and even olfactory protest tactics).    I conclude by arguing that acts of vision in protests always operate alongside ideologies of visibility, and call for integrated analyses of the two social phenonema.